India's Competitive Advantage

As the World Cup unfolds, there have been a number of articles and posts talking about - Why is a nation of a billion people not among one of the 32 teams in Germany? Here are a few thoughts that discuss the Ghost of India-in-the-World-Cup; Past, Present and Future . What's wrong, what's being done and what needs to be done. Shall we ever find 22 people to kick a ball around properly?

We might not be competing, but we are definitely participating. I am far from upset; in some sense, India has won the World Cup and the World of Sport. How?
Let me explain.

During the last WC, I was in India and hence could not appreciate or assess our contribution to the World Cup or any global sporting event, for that matter. Germany 2006 is my first experience of watching the World Cup in the company of people from all nations. The first big game Brazil vs. Croatia expectedly drew massive crowds in the 'student lounge'. (Note this exception to this post). Between 11am and 5pm on gamedays, graduate students are clearly not doing much work and can be found lounging in front of the massive TV screen in the Pierpont Commons.
Guess which country has the largest contingent? Mera Bharat Mahan! Isn't it remarkable that we turned out in such large numbers to watch a sport which is not even a minor sport in our country, and for whose biggest prize we have never qualified, except once (even then, we did not make the trip for tragic reasons). Amidst a sea of nations, the rather contented Indian faces (mine included) made me realise India's contribution to Sport. In this era of globalization and capitalism, should we not leverage our competitive advantage? India has a long way to go before calling itself a great sporting nation, but there is no doubt that we are truly the world's finest spectator nation. We would easily win every possible medal if 'Spectating' were a real sport. Why?

1. Sport Omnivores: We are truly catholic in our tastes - we watch anything you can throw at us.
2. Endurance and Stamina: We can watch forever. While the average American tires after 2-3 hrs, we can go on and on. We can watch for days on end. Why is cricket so popular in India? Because it provides so many hours and days of spectating. Too bad that even Tests have to end after 5 days.
3. Professionalism: We don't watch just for petty parochial or nationalistic reasons. We cheer teams from other countries playing sports we don't even play. We are truly professional in our attitude.
4. Intelligence and Agility: It does not take more than a few games, at the most half a season, for the worst among us to pick up the nuances of any sport and start talking like an expert. Plus, we don't even need to leave our armchairs to do this. Take American football or ice-hockey, two sports which most Indians have little experience playing, or would not be able to play even if they wanted to; yet we can advise Peyton Manning what to do next.
5. Indian women also rule: While watching and discussing sports is still largely a male bastion, relative to her sex the Bhaartiya nari kicks some serious **tt. I still do not know of any videshi female who can compete with the Indian female fan. She can often be any man's equal when it comes to watching sports.

So, whatcha worried about? Grab the remote and plonk yourself in the coziest chair. No matter who wins, we have won!

Ode to the Indian Spectator

In the shade, beside the green glade,
Wherever a game is being played;
Fought to be lost or won.
There will be at least one
Quick to grasp and understand
An alien game on an alien strand
Neither does he tire nor does he pespire
Going swifter, stronger and higher
Sports' common denominator
The Great Indian Spectator.

Update: India@the World Cup (from the official website)

More Good News for Coffee Drinkers

A recent study shows that Coffee may prevent Type II diabetes. It's not the caffeine but the anti-oxidants, so decaf coffee is just as good. One more reason to rejoice.

Previous post on the benefits of coffee

Ayn Rand - Darkly Roasted

Gaurav responded to my previous post on 'Ayn Rand' and I felt a few clarifications were due. Enduring a little repetition is not too much to ask of Ayn Rand devotees who are used to ploughing through 1000 or more pages of repetitive rhetoric, but I ask the others for their kind indulgence.

Firstly, I owe Gaurav an apology for calling him an 'Ayn Rand fanatic', which as his post clarifies, he certainly is not. Also, I mistakenly assumed that he is or was an Objectivist. My apologies. Secondly, I also need to apologize for a lack of clarity that suggested ad hominem. I thought that it was quite clear that the sentences in question were observations and chiefly, I assumed that the extensive links on this page and other resources on the web would prove adequate to settle the debate.

On Utility
Hard core Ayn Rand-ians are reluctant to concede what Gaurav and I both agree upon, as he writes,
"I completely agree with Hirak when he says that "Ayn Rand's philosophy is eventually mythical and full of too many big IFs and relying on too many conditions/assumptions for it to really work". He is speaking about the utilitarian value of Rand's ideas. Of course the world is not black and white."
A painting by Picasso doesn't need to have an immediate practical or utilitarian value. It's a painting, it's art; utility is not what it aims for. But is it unfair to demand of Objectivism which claims to be "a philosophy for living on earth", to have at least a few working examples of its practical utility? Doesn't its non-utility make the whole idea rather questionable?

If wishes were really horses?
But, there are lots of ideas that have no utility and they should not be dismissed offhand. So, is this one of them?
Firstly, you can't call Objectivism 'Randian' philosophy, because it borrows endlessly from other philosophers, chiefly Aristotle, Nietzsche and even from her arch-enemy -- Immanuel Kant. All that Rand should get is gift-wrapping credit. Her core ideas and principles have been questioned in articles like WHY I AM NOT AN OBJECTIVIST -
Michael Huemer
Personally, I do agree with the broadest brush-strokes of her ideas and who really doesn't? I have no moral objections to what she says, but I do have other objections. The problem with her philosophy is that is pathetically reductive. This is why it is appealingly simple and practically useless. So, as far as living in Rand's ideal world goes, my response is: "What exactly is her ideal world ?" I know what she is trying to say but I don't think she has defined or explained her terms properly. Terms like 'heroic being' or 'happiness' are floating. Like John Galt's motor, which he miraculously managed to conjure up using his reason and individuality, in complete defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the floating definitions are applied over and over again to create a magnificent edifice. Her concepts and Galt's motor, borrowing from Dennett(who used this analogy distinguish between the ideas of evolution and ID), are 'sky-hooks' as opposed to 'cranes' which are grounded in reality. How does one obtain the ideal government? How do we replace it? What about externalities that are imposed on people? (eg: global warming). In comparison, take Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett's books which contain radical thoughts and ideas, but which are firmly grounded in reality.

* *
While fanatics are best left alone, there are those who want to debate ideas meaningfully and are willing to re-examine their beliefs. In the course of writing this post I stumbled upon this book -
Intellectual Morons : How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas
. It is a rather ambitious effort that takes on not only Ayn Rand but even Chomsky. I would like to get hold of it and in case you have read it, please leave a short review.

Ayn Rand - The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

I had to step forward in defence of coffee. My friend Gaurav is known for his out-of-the-box views, but I think he really crossed the line here when he likened Ayn Rand's philosophy to black coffee. If you wish to be an Ayn Rand fanatic, great! But why blacken coffee's good name in the bargain? Aren't there better smilies out there?

Objectively speaking, Ayn Rand's philosophy is better compared to a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster - the best drink in the universe, the ultimate drink fantasy. A drink one can logically make since it has a recipe, but only IF you can obtain the ingredients.

However, I am certain that even after having a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster it will be hard to find any literary merit in Rand's work. But that was never the bone of contention; we are talking about the Ayn Rand Philosophy and Logic Package. A casual search on the web will yield a cornucopia of criticisms of her faulty logic, sloppy scholarship of philosophy and endless borrowing from thinkers and philosophers from the past. These have been discussed at length in any number of articles, some more casually than others. Upon reading the more scholarly ones, I think it would be better to hurl rocks than throw terms like metaphysical_realism, representationalism at you. We will have an Atlas Shrugged size post if we start talking about how the Grand Dame herself couldn't lift the weight of her own lofty ideals - her refusal to submit to peer-review, or willingness to publish opposing views in her own journal, her lover's tiff with one-time protege Nathaniel Branden and her unwillingness to stomach any criticism. In any case, the most common stance of Ayn Rand and her cultists is in the manner recently popularized by George Bush, Jr. - "If you are not with me, then you are against me!". When the Objectivists are not fighting the rest (a.k.a. the Collectivists), they are fighting amongst themselves, thankfully without the use of physical violence.

However at 18, I was very impressed and at that age Ayn Rand reads like nothing you have ever read before and it is very refreshing. I devoured her books and relished them one by one. But, then you grow up and realise even if you are like one of her cardboard cutout superheroes, not many women will want to submit to the really interesting concept of rape as a religious rite. No wonder the BDSM community considers Ayn Rand as one of their mascots. From personal experience, first you believe in Santa Claus, then you believe in Superman, then in Jackie Chan and in that chain, you later believe in Ayn Rand and then you move on.

Like the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, Ayn Rand's philosophy is eventually mythical and full of too many big IFs and relying on too many conditions/assumptions for it to really work. I have yet to meet or hear about a real-life John Galt or Howard Roark. Rand, herself confessed in one of her introductions - "My books are not about what things are, but what they should be". Sweet dreams! Even decades later while her theories have still to find consistent practical application, she has not even found much favour with serious scholars of philosophy or literature. Knowing this, the Ayn Rand Institute quite rationally cultivates her largest fanbase -- high-school and college students. I see it as more of a note of regret than of tribute that at her funeral they read Kipling's If.
* *
If you seemed to have missed out on the fun and want a quick start in the Ayn Rand scheme of things then follow these 10 easy steps . Once you master that make sure you don't say the 25 Most Inappropriate Things An Objectivist Can Say During Sex.

I do not wish to be a bore so I suggest that you read links on this page which is the source of many serious, and hilarious links above.

Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Right from its cover everything about this movie is off-beat. If you are looking for a whimsical composite character check Steve Zissou out. He is Capt. Ahab, Yves-Cousteau, Capt. Haddock and a jaded James Bond all rolled into one. I cannot think of anyone else who can play the eccentric Steve Zissou other than Bill Murray. He manages to be all-at-once full of sadness, reckless bravado and ennui. Zissou says, "I thought I was going to go in a blaze of glory, but I think I am just going home." His best friend gets eaten by a shark, then he bumps into his illegitimate son, no one will finance his expedition, his wife(Anjelica Huston) leaves him, and a rather pregnant Cate Blanchett shows up to write a cover story. What could possibly go wrong here? The boat is then attacked by pirates and the crew threatens mutiny. Still there is no sight of the elusive jaguar shark.
The movie is of the sink-or-swim type. If it does not swim in the first 20 mins it's already a lost cause. But if it manages to hold your attention beyond that then this movie is treat in a way it's really hard to describe. It has so many bizarre things going all at once. Pele is constantly singing David Bowie songs on the acoustic guitar in Brazilian Portuguese. While there is that script girl who is always wandering around topless, the sparkling dialogue is more fascinating. Full credit to Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach. They shot the Zissou documentaries in the movie using old Ektachrome stock to give it the saturated color look. There is an apparent method in this madness and one wants to indulge the director's idiosyncrasies. Now I sorely want to catch Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale and Wes Anderson's other movies.
* *
Steve Zissou to a pirate: Don't point that gun at him, he's an unpaid intern.
* *
Steve Zissou to the pregnant Jane-Winslet: You really think it's cool for you to hit the sauce with a bun in the oven?
* *
I liked the odd-ball scene where Zissou's team 'attacks' a fellow rival Allison Hennessey's (played by Jeff Goldblum) research station to find it locked.

Ned Plimpton: Who locked us out?
Anne-Marie Sakowitz: No-one, we're trespassing.
Ned Plimpton: Steve, are we allowed in here?
Steve Zissou: It's a scientific community, man.

Then Steve Zissou instructs his team to make off with the scientific equipment including a coffee machine after confirming that it can make cappuchino with the vague promise of returning it. (Coffee does fuel research.)

Two Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

On the lit blog:
Monologue Of A Dog by Wislawa Szymborska

The Mousetrap

In my best David Frost accent -
"According to the Guinness Book of World Records the Mousetrap by Dame Agatha Christie is the world's longest running play. It was first performed in 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre and is still running today at the St. Martin's theatre."

As a quizzer you tend to pick up all kinds of mostly useless information and I knew this fact before I had read any of Agatha Christie's works. The Mousetrap was a really cute Christie trap since it got me interested in reading her books, except the play in question which was hard to get hold of. Finally, I did get hold of the script and I was a little disappointed with this just-about-average Christie plot. I can imagine that the lighting, the colorful cast of characters and the eerie-in-the-context tune of the The Three Blind Mice might make a stage version more appealing, yet one would not think that this would be the story that will keep audiences entertained for 50 years. In any case, the play is a rich source of all kinds of trivia and the Wiki Page explains another question I always had - "Okay, you have the book and the play, where's the movie?"

BTW: For a long time, Guinness was more the book than the beer. Well, you live and learn.

Expose to Propose

A local naked story which might have been caused by the summer heat.

How's Life? It depends on the liver

I have already confessed . Now, since I have my a coffee machine on my desk a couple of cups a day is not uncommon. Coffee addition along with periodic depression and frustration are one of the occupational hazards of being a graduate student. In a recent trip to Pittsburgh, we wanting a quick caffeine fix so that we could stay awake during the talks. We stepped out in search of a coffee shop and I wondered, "How many minutes (seconds) does it take to wander in a college town without seeing a sign for a coffee shop?"
According to me - less than 100.
After obtaining our daily caffeine fix from the coffee machine, my labmate Tim and I often joculate (joke + speculate) if coffee drinkers will be in the position smokers find themselves today. In a few decades will studies show that excessive coffee drinking poses serious health risks? Will we ruefully say, while desperately trying to get rid of a serious coffee addiction -
"In our times everybody drank coffee. A pot of coffee a day was not uncommon. There were coffee shops on every corner and places like Starbucks were seen as cool places to hang out. Now they tell us that it is bad. Eat tofu instead."
So far, all research has shown that there are clear benefits to drinking coffee and the latest finding about coffee is even more encouraging Coffee & your Liver.

Protest, but protect yourself

If you try this at home, or in your city in addition to a helmet and a pair shoes I would highly recommend wearing bike shorts.

Inspiring story of a scientist

Please ignore the previous post. Even picking up the telephone might be rather unnecessary. This is a truly inspiring story of Theodore Hapner who has taken great risks to take the scientific method into uncharted waters ...

"Only months after abandoning a tenured position at Lehigh University, maverick chemist Theodore Hapner managed to disprove two of the three laws of thermodynamics and show that gold is a noxious gas, turning the world of scienceÂ?defined for centuries by exhaustive research, painstaking observation, and hard-won theoriesÂ?completely on its head."
(Read more...)

I would like to see such stories published in the Reader's Digest under the Stories to Inspire You section.

Academic Snake Oil

Got this in an email this morning and I would like to share it others who just might want to get on with life.

"Contact us NOW to receive your diploma within days, and start improving your life!

Bachelors, Masters, MBA and/or Doctorate (PhD)

NO ONE is turned down.
Call Now 7 days a week.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, with the following degrees, here is how much you can
expect to make in your lifetime:
High School Diploma: $1,100,000
Bachelors Degree: $2,100,000
Masters Degree: $2,500,000
Doctorate: $4,400,000
You Need a Better Degree, and we can Help!
Obtain degrees from Prestigious Universities based on you life experience.
NO ONE is turned down.
Call Now 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.


Professor. Barton Vick "

I am thinking of ordering two doctoral degrees.
Quack! Quack!

Burmese Days

See review of George Orwell's Burmese Days on the Lit. Blog


Another Friday afternoon; I fish in the mailbox and there is the usual pre-approved credit card application. Those folks in Wilmington, Delaware and that place in North Dakota must really love me to keep sending me this stuff again and again, often more than once a week.
I walk upstairs and enjoy the ritual of brutally ripping the envelope. It is so flattering to get these mails from them extolling my excellent financial record and my credit rating that they have made the 'simple' decision of pre-approving me for their Platinum/Gold/Rewards card with its customized clear plastic design with x % Cashback bonus/0% Intro APR/Balance Transfer. This time I saw a note at the bottom written in the fashion of the statutory warnings on cigarette packets:

You can choose to stop receiving prescreened offers of credit from us and other companies by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT

Really? I could be free of these people? who unfailingly find me despite the fact that I have moved 6 times in 3 years and given them no hints! (Yet, magazines that I subscribe to have not managed to implement this auto-detect mechanism. Why?) These people have persisted year after year, week after week despite the fact that I never once took up any of their offers. Now, I have the chance to be free of them forever. I almost pick up the phone to call and then hesitate.

If I take this step, there will be no more mails in the mailbox on most days. If it wasn't for them the mailman would think that I was probably dead or had moved without a forwarding address. I mean these people are the only ones who write to me in the old-fashioned way, using snail mail, and acknowledge my existence on this planet. Compared to email spam, this junk-mail is rather benign. These are people who flatter me by sending me these lovely letters and not the ones who try to demoralize me by suggesting that I need to enlarge my ___ ! Who in the world is willing to write testimonial after testimonial to my exemplary character and fiscally reponsible self? And what about all that fun of ripping open those envelopes and then gleefully chucking them in the bin? I am not quite ready to say good-bye to all that. Take me off your list... but not yet.

Update - 8th June, 2006
Not surprisingly, most folks have been irked by the junk. For more practical suggestions see: Reduce Junkmail.